Dear Dr. Bill,
This is tough to say, but my mother-in-law has been mistreating me for the last 15 years. She’s been rude, critical and outright hostile to me — often right in front of my husband and our kids. When I’ve asked my husband why he doesn’t stand up for me, he says “I know my mom is mean, but that’s just the way she is. Try to ignore it.” What should I do?
Earlier this year I received an e-mail very similar to yours, and my advice is pretty much the same.
Your mother-in-law has no right to treat you with such disrespect. Your husband has a responsibility to you and your children to step up to the plate and defend you. But from your description, he’s either afraid of his mom or simply doesn’t want to rock the boat.
I suggest you make a date with your husband, away from the kids. Tell him it’s time for both of you to start setting some firm boundaries with his mom. Explain that you can’t do this alone and that you need his support.
Then sit down with your mother in law and let her know that things are going to change in your relationship. Your husband should take the lead in this conversation, and tell his mom that her constant criticism of you hurts him deeply and that he is no longer going to accept it.
He should make it clear that unless she can make a genuine effort to change her attitude and behavior, she is no longer welcome in your home. She will likely react in anger, or she may play the martyr role and attempt to make you and your husband feel guilty. Stand your ground and refuse to be manipulated.
If your husband doesn’t have the courage to back you up and confront his mom, seek the assistance of a family therapist. This will send a strong signal to him that you’re deadly serious about this issue.